Thursday, June 6, 2002

Ernest Shackleton Photograph / O'Briens Emily Square

The latest addition to the artefacts on display in the local Heritage Centre is a signed photograph of Ernest Shackleton, the Antartic explorer presented by the O’Brien family of Emily Square. Their donation of the photograph is the second time it was gifted. On the previous occasion the photograph was presented by Ernest Shackleton to his daughter Cecily with an inscription dated 30th of April 1918 which reads:- “To Cecily from Micky”.

“Micky” was Shackleton’s nickname in Dulwich College, London being the second choice Irish nickname chosen by students who had already allocated the name “Paddy” to another Irish student a year ahead of Shackleton. Ernest Shackleton who was born in Kilkea, just outside Athy in 1874 used that same nickname throughout the rest of his life when corresponding with his family and close friends. The signed photograph now exhibited in the heritage centre, like many of the other Shackleton artefacts already there, is a significant link with one of South Kildare’s most famous sons.

The O’Brien family made the presentation to the Heritage Centre to commemorate the 80th birthday of Frank O’Brien who is the third generation of the O’Brien’s to run the grocery and pub business from 23 Emily Square. It was Frank’s grandfather, Stephen O’Brien, a Kilkenny man, who first came to Athy in 1874 after purchasing the business from James Leahy. Leahy, who was also a farmer with lands at Ardscull, was later a Member of Parliament under the leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell. He was nominated to stand for Parliament at a meeting held in the Town Hall, Athy which was attended by Parnell. Following that meeting Parnell confided in his colleague, Andrew Kettle that Leahy was “too fat and will fall asleep in the House of Commons”.

Last week the Town Hall was again the venue as connections were made with James Leahy, Stephen O’Brien and Ernest Shackleton. For Shackleton the explorer was born on the 15th of February 1874 the same year as Stephen O’Brien moved from Dublin to take over the business at Emily Square from James Leahy. Stephen managed the Ann Devin tea shops in Dublin and in the process became a tea expert. For health reasons he was advised to live in the country and so chose to come to Athy which was even then was highly regarded as a most suitable provincial town for the rearing of a young family. He continued to deal in tea as part of the grocery trade carried on at number 23 Emily Square and it was as a tea merchant that he became acquainted with Mr. Shackleton a company representative for Twinings and Crossfields. Shackleton was a member of the extended Shackleton family from Ballytore and as such a relation of the Antartic explorer, Ernest Shackleton.

Another link between the O’Brien’s and the Shackleton’s was made with the second generation of the O’Brien’s. Frank O’Brien’s Mother was Annie Kelly of Ballytore whose family had acquired and owned property in the former Quaker village of Ballytore. The village had originated from an early 18th Century settlement and developed with the founding of the Ballytore Quaker school by Abraham Shackleton. Ernest Shackleton was a direct descendent of Abraham Shackleton and the Shackleton’s owned several properties in the village of Ballytore which subsequently came into the ownership of the Kelly family. When Annie Kelly married Fran O’Brien it forged another link between the O’Brien’s and the Shackleton’s. Today the Kelly name is still over the door of one of the principle public house’s in the village of Ballytore.

The Chairman of the Town Council, Sean Cunnane did the honours in the Heritage Centre when he unveiled the framed photograph of Shackleton presented by O’Brien family. When he spoke afterwards he surprised the audience by telling us that he was a relation of the O’Brien’s of Emily Square. It was surely an evening for making connections and Councillor Cunnane in his witty contribution spoke of his own surprise on finding out some years ago of his relationship with the O’Brien’s. Apparently Frank O’Brien’s son was a pupil of Sean Cunnane’s in the local school and undertook a class essay on his Summer holidays. The essay dealt with an enjoyable time spent in County Mayo with his grandfather and of trips to Pontoon and the surrounding countryside. Something in the essay prompted the young teacher to ask his pupil for the name of the grandfather mentioned in the essay only to find that it was Michael Carney of Kiltimagh. For Michael Carney who was a relation of Sean Cunnane’s own father, and so the connection between the young teacher from County Mayo and the O’Brien’s of Emily Square, Athy.

It was a connection which quite surprised the audience when it was mentioned by the Town Council Chairman after he unveiled the Shackleton photograph last week. Given the links made earlier between the O’Brien’s and the Shackleton’s it was perhaps fitting that yet another link was made, on the evening that the birthday of the doyen of Athy’s publicans was remembered. For the Shackleton photograph was the gift of the O’Brien family to commemorate the 80th birthday of Frank O’Brien whose interest in and support for the Heritage Centre has been whole hearted ever since the centre opened. In recalling the generosity of the O’Brien’s in making the gift, the Chairman of the Town Council expressed the hope that more businesses and families in Athy would recognise the benefit of donating materials suitable for exhibiting in the Heritage Centre. Such support is vital to the future success of the centre and even if suitable artefacts cannot be donated there is always the need for financial donations which can be used to purchase items illustrative of the history of Athy and its people. The generous initiative taken by Frank O’Brien and his family in relation to the Shackleton photograph can be repeated by many more people, and if so, the future success of the Heritage Centre would be assured.

Last week this paper carried details of a weekend trip planned for County Kerry locations connected with Tom Crean who accompanied Ernest Shackleton on many of his Antartic Expeditions. Originally planned for later this month the trip has been re-arranged for July the 12th - July the 14th. It will take in Annascaul the hometown of Tom Crean as well as the South Pole Inn which Crean owned and operated for some years prior to his death. A visit to the recently opened Crean exhibition in the Kerry County Museum in Tralee is also planned. Further details about this trip can be obtained from Margaret O’Riordan in the Athy Heritage Centre at telephone number:- 0507-33075.
Last week I was contacted by an interested enquirer from England seeking information on Ellen Cobbledick who lived in Offaly Street in the early 1950’s. I lived in Offaly Street but cannot recall her but my good friend Denis Smyth who is a mine of information on everything relating to Athy, remembers her as a lodger in Murphy’s of 4 Offaly Street. Can anyone help me with further information on Ellen Cobbledick so that I can pass on details to my enquirer in England.

Another phone call followed by a letter this week sought details of men from South Kildare who enlisted in the British Army during World War II. A television production company is making a TV programme on the topic of Irish mens involvement in World War II and would be interested in talking to former soldiers about their experiences in the British Army. If there is anybody out there who knows of anyone who served in World War II would they contact me so that I can add to the list of names already prepared of men from this area who fought in that war.

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